Monday, July 13, 2009

Reflections from the Obama Ghana Visit as seen on TV: He came, He saw, He Conquered... all in under 24 hours

An amazing thing happened the night the Obamas were due to arrive in Accra. It stopped raining for the first time in weeks and aside from brief early dawn rain on Saturday morning, we have been bathed in sunshine ever since! I call that Obama Magic. But lets get back to that Friday night. A few hours before Airforce One touched down, Accra was all kerfuffle. Cars were hurriedly making their way home like we had all been tele-ported back to the days of military curfews. I foolishly ignored warnings from family to leave work early and came face-to-face with monster traffic on my route home. Once I finally arrived home, I got excited text messages from my college friend M who works in Liberia (incidentally, like Obama, she has a Kenyan father and an American mother)

M: "Are you guys lining the streets to welcome Obama?"

Me: "No, we are all home. We were told the roads leading to the airport were blocked"

M was disappointed
but could understand why the vast majority of Ghanaians were watching Obama beamed into their living rooms like the rest of the world. She still wants a souvenir she saw on CNN: President Obama next to a Kenyan flag and an American flag. Anyone know where I can find one?

Anyway, around 9pm, Airforce One finally touched down and the Obama family emerged full of smiles and warmth instantly charming all of us including our government ministers waiting at the airport. Clearly touched by Obama-Magic, the ministers could hardly contain their excitement; they took pictures and gushed. President Mills and his wife were full of grace and the whole ceremony was extremely brief but beautiful. I hear President Obama even tried his hand at some Ghanaian traditional dance.

The next morning I pondered over the possibilities of heading into town to either loiter somewhere around the Osu cemetery near the Accra International Conference Centre where the much-anticipated "Africa Address" would be held. *Alas* here's the thing:
I could've have loitered around but would completely miss the speech and possibly miss even a glimpse of Obama! In the end I found myself transfixed by the TV instead.

There was the breakfast meeting at the seat of government (Christianborg Castle). The sound of Angelique Kidjos's Akwaaba ("welcome" in the Akan language") was played as quite an apt soundtrack on one station. After a ceremony that involved national anthems and a super-quick inspection of the guard, the camera panned to a jammed packed area where the Who's who of Ghanaian political elite and society had gathered. There were the 2 former presidents, political party leaders, ministers, the Archbishop of the Catholic diocese of Accra and various other religious leaders. After President Obama's meet-and-greet , they sat down for breakfast and alas, transmission ended. I secretly hoped we would see what was on offer for breakfast .

I must have missed the visit of the Obamas to the La General Hospital because the next time I saw President Obama was when he was addressing the august House of Parliament.

What a rousing speech he gave! I will leave the analysis of the content to others .He spoke to all Africans; he addressed the youth, touched on issues of corruption, autocratic regimes and the need for the rule of law and democratic principles to prevail. The whole time I heard an underlying emphasis on "Africans can and should be self-sufficient"

One interesting remark he made was a reference to the young Ghanaian investigative journalist, the intrepidly daring Anas Ameyaw Anas He also mentioned Ms. Patience Quaye, a deputy police superintendent who has able to prevent a case of human trafficking.

After the beautiful CAN DO address, there was yet another meet and greet session with our parliamentarians. This time, we got to witness the effect of Obama-Magic on the opposition minority parliamentarians as they also excitedly shook hands with the Man of the hour. Majority parliamentarians were not left out either. Neither were Ex-president Mr. JA Kufuor or Ex-President Flight Lieutenant (RTD) Mr. Jerry John Rawlings who seems to also have a perchance for photography.
The next time we caught up Obama magic was in the Central Region of Ghana. The chiefs and people of Oguaa (known since colonial times as Cape Coast) were making their way to a meeting ground in golden splendor. A sizable crowd had also gathered in front of the Cape Coast Castle (a former slave fort and the point of no return for millions of Africans who were trafficked to the Americas and Caribbean in bondage).

At this point I realised that if I really wanted to see President Obama in the flesh, I could have camped out in Cape Coast with thousands of others.
The Obama family arrived by chopper for the tour of Castle and appeared to be in the company of Mrs Obama's mother (??)They were shown the castle by a tour guide as well as Honourable Fritz Baffour, a newly elected parliamentarian, former director of Ghana's National Museums and part-time actor. After leaving the Castle, President Obama gave a touching speech on the impact of the visit and then he disappeared! The TV commentator did not seem sure where the President and his family were. There was a rumour that Mrs. Obama was being enstooled as a Queen-mother but this was never confirmed. I saw on CNN this morning that it appears that Anderson Cooper was probably interviewing him in the castle during the time he disappeared from our screens. Anderson Cooper?! I love him! I did not even know he was in Ghana!

President Obama re-emerged and after pausing to tie his shoe-lace and a few waves they headed off to Accra. According to one newspaper President Obama ate kenkey (fermented maize/corn) while he was here. Quite an interesting choice for a Ghanaian dish. Although it is one of my favorites, I was once told by a British class-mate in grad school that he had tasted the most "God-awful rancid dish ever" while in Ghana - Alas it was kenkey! Never spoke to the guy again but I do wonder what Obama's feelings are about kenkey!

After Cape Coast, my eyes left the TV and I finally went off to do other things. The last time I caught President Obama was in a final rousing address outside Airforce One on the tarmac at the airport. The crowd seemed to be made up of mostly Americans. He and Mrs. Obama bid farewell, climbed the stairs of the plane hand in hand, turned around and gave us a lovely unforgettable final wave. *Sigh*

Well, President Obama has come and gone and we return to the humdrum of life in Accra. The Electricity Company of Ghana jolted us back to reality on Sunday by inexplicably shutting off our electricity from 8am to 6pm. Ain't that Africa for you and me.
Today's Daily Graphic: Fame has clearly gotten to our heads!


Kwegyirba Aggrey-Orleans said...

I love the Daily Guide picture! Rawlings and Kufuor are as far away from each other as possible. Hahaha.
Thanks for the recap of activities Abena missed a lot of it as I was on my way to Obamaland. I wonder what Mrs Obama's take on the castle was. I heard her DNA tests say she is from Cape coast. She's probably my cousin.;-)
I wonder what he ate the kenkey with. Hot pepper and crabs?
I pray I live to see a distinguished man like Obama lead Ghana.

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

I also watched him intermitently whilst reading my novel. I think the only part I missed was the Tea Party. I saw the Conference, the Cape Coast issue and the Departure...

I like his demeanour when he was talking and I loved what he said, though it isn't different.

Maya Mame said...

Abena, thank you sooooo much for such a detailed account of the weekend that passed. Due to no choice of my own, I haven't been able to follow the Obama Ghana visit at all, but your post tells me everything I needed to know. I hope is CAN do speech inspires us all, the little that Swedish TV allowed me to see was uplifting enough.

ECG's Sunday "present" has me laughing but unfortunately it also reminds me of what I'll be coming back to in a few weeks time.

Abena said...

*LOL* Kwegyirba, The Daily Guide picture really captured the mood! I was expecting fireworks after the interview Mr. Rawlings granted to Tv3 the night before and the interview Mr. Kufuor did on Net2 TV some days earlier! Seems they stayed out of each other's way the whole day. Pity you missed all the *excitement* while enroute to Obamaland. You could very well be related to Mrs Obama! Strange, I never saw her after the castle tour, she may have been quite shaken.
Having a charismatic, energetic leader for Ghana? Seems a long way away...unless Mr. Rawlings can be president again? *LOL*
Enjoy Obamaland!

Abena said...

*Wow* Nana Fredua, I'm impressed that you were able to combine reading with Obama-mania! Actually, I should have tried that too...would have been more productive. I like the headings you gave the visit:
The Tea Party
The Conference
The Cape Coast Issue and
The Departure..
I guess like me you also missed
The Hospital Encounter
Indeed, the content of the speech may not have been a major policy announcement as some are touting but the delivery and message were amazing.

Abena said...

You are most welcome Maya! Unfortunately, it was all the way I saw it.
Accra misses you too!! After all the power outages, water and petrol shortages in store, you will want to head back to Sweden super-quick..
I do like the cool weather though...

Johannes said...

Thanks for the thourough account! I've recently spent a lot of time in Ghana, and I wish I would have been there during Obama's visit. I've actually been treated at La General Hospital where he went.

Johannes, Sweden

Abena said...

Thanks Johannes! I'm really impressed....seeing as I don't even know how to get to the La General Hospital!

novisi said...

i only followed Obama's Ghana visit mainly on over the internet! even the address to parliament i watched live online! The only TV i watched was part of the departure speech! i hardly love crowds! i love to be clandestine instead!

those are nonessential to me though, i prefer content analysis!

anyway, Obama, sense some and nonsense some!

i'm yet to get the full feed of the departure speech but the one at the Ogua Castle for me is what i would call a complete approach to issues!

all sides involved: Evil by man against man! he didn't say black against white and he didn't say white against black. very universal and real.

but the speech in parliament was partly nonsense! it was more of an insult (the nonsense part i mean, not the whole) borne out of pretense or lack of appreciation of core issues or just blatant lies (i'm not sure which!) to say that Zimbabwe cannot blame the west for its current woes!

you may want to inspire people to take their destinies into their own hands but that cannot mean sacrificing the truth! The west (Europeans, UK especially) contributed to the failure of Zimbabwe and Obama cannot rub that off the book of truth no matter what point he intends to drive home!

then also there is the grand banner about him coming to Ghana because of democracy! and i wonder what else amounts to childishness with serious issues! what was Obama doing in a non-democratic Saudi Arabia? how else could a contradiction be defined?

all the same, Obama is king of Pop or Rock because most of the leaders in the world only carryout idiotic actions! else these things he says are just fundamentals that should be the norm than the rarity! but i'm glad he admits himself that these are age-old ideals!

we have the world turned upside-down! damn!

Abena, nice report!

N.I.M.M.O said...

I really wonder why Africans are so impressed with Obama's speech in Ghana. Contextually, the guy did not say anything new really.

Read the speech again and you will find that even the '.. Africans solving Africa's problems...' was probably lifted from Kwame Nkrumah's speech more than forty years ago!

Its a trick Obama uses, he simply repeats those things you have heard before, that's why it sounded so familiar and seems to resonate with us.

He did the same thing in Cairo and in Germany before that.

He's just a demagogue.

Abena said...

Thanks Novisi! that is so interesting you followed it on the 'net! I'm sure you got better coverage compared to what the rest of us were subjected to. Well, in true Ghanaian fashion there is now fall-out over the coverage.
Love the way you speak your mind on issues...not sure I entirely see eye to eye on the Zimbabwe issue. Indeed the West had a role pre-independence and of course leaving important agreements hanging after the Lancaster House agreement...However; I think it is time as Africans we stop looking to our colonial or neo-colonial masters to blame for our woes and take responsibility for own destinies! It is time we did less of crying foul and rather play the game to perfection..
As for the Saudi situation; a real slippery slope in International diplomacy...

Abena said...

Indeed, N.I.M.M.O.; I agree that the speech was all about the delivery and not necessarily the content. In fact, a CNN reporter the next day said that President Obama had delivered a major policy statement" which left many of us perplexed as to whether we had watched the same speech.

However, I wouldn't write off the content of the speech completely and certainly would not call him a demagogue! For me, it was very much a "state of the continent" address..identifying key areas that will be important for the US Africa policy direction.... Would love to hear your take..

Edward: said...

I think Obama eating Kenkey is a vote for Ga dishes. Hurrrray. Osei Accra boys and girls!!!

Abena said...

Hehehehe! Indeed Edward...but what about Fanti Dokonu/Kenkey?